PORTLAND — Peaks Island residents will be asked this weekend whether they want to begin another bid to secede from Portland.

Islanders are invited to a “town meeting” Saturday to debate secession and vote on whether they want to try again to break off from the mainland. A similar effort failed four years ago, when the Legislature rejected it and asked Peaks residents to try to work out their problems with the city.

Sid Gerard, who helped organize Saturday’s 9 a.m. meeting at the Community Center, said that if a majority indicates an interest in secession, a supportive state legislator will be asked to introduce a bill before the deadline for bills in early January.

Gerard said prospects in Augusta are probably better than they were four years ago, when Democrats opposed secession and Republicans were supportive. With Republicans now in the majority, he said, island self-rule might have more support.

Some islanders feel they have tried to patch things up with Portland, in part by setting up the Peaks Island Council to represent the island’s interests, but the panel has been ignored by the city.

For instance, they say, the council asked Portland to beef up the police presence on the island and give more financial aid to Casco Bay Lines, which provides ferry service to Peaks. Instead, the city reduced police staffing and its subsidy to the ferry service.

The island council almost went out of existence this fall, when no one filed papers to run for three open seats on the seven-member panel and three members decided to resign to protest the city’s actions. Three members were elected as write-ins – with only three or four votes each, because most of the ballots were invalidated by city officials for procedural reasons.

The three new members and one holdover appointed three interim councilors to keep the panel in existence.

Another idea to avert secession – setting up a semi-autonomous village corporation for the island – appears to be going nowhere, said Michael Richards, who met with city officials to discuss that option in mid-October. Richards said he expected some sort of response from the city within a month, but there has been no communication.

Mayor Nicholas Mavodones, who attended the meeting with Richards, said he expects the City Council to hold a workshop on the village corporation idea, but no date has been set.

Gerard, who was elected to the Peaks Island Council last month with three votes, said the city’s seemingly dismissive attitude has dissolved his resistance to secession.

“The way I see it, nothing’s happened and it’s gotten worse in a lot of areas,” he said. “The city wasn’t about to negotiate anything.”

Gerard said Saturday’s straw vote should provide a good indication of the mood of the islanders.

Another member of the Peaks Island Council said he supports independence but isn’t sure the time is right.

“I genuinely wish the island were its own town, but I don’t support anything that’s contentious right now,” said Eric Eaton.

Peaks residents are still dealing with maintaining police and fire staffing and protecting the island’s school from budget cuts, said Eaton, who would like the focus to be on those issues, rather than another fight over secession.

Mavodones said the City Council hasn’t discussed secession since it voted to oppose the last attempt four years ago. He said that with suggestions for a village corporation and secession, there’s a question of who on the island has the authority to ask for either approach.

 

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]